On a Thursday afternoon we were fortunate to meet with the Honourable Charles Sousa, the Minister of Finance. Minister Sousa began our meeting by detailing his impressive professional journey in the private sector before making the switch to the public sector and political life. Minister Sousa was inspired to switch to public life as he found himself often engaging more and more in political activities, a need to serve his community and a sense of duty to help those around him. Minister Sousa carries out this responsibility by ensuring key aspects of his mandate such as the annual provincial budget, serves all Ontarians.
Minister Sousa guided us through the various stages and nuances of the budget cycle. We learned how in the allocations phase, the Ministry of Finance takes requests for funding from ministries. In the projection phase, actual costs and expenses of government programs are examined. For example, they are currently looking at the financial impacts of OHIP+ and the cap and trade system. The Premier’s Office and cabinet work closely together, constantly communicating to be on the same page and aligned on the budget. To this end, Minister Sousa regularly takes meetings with his colleagues to understand their funding needs and priorities. One challenge the Minister contends with is that his mandate only allows him to control spending and has little to no leverage on the interest on debt.
When balancing his role as Minister of Finance with his local obligations as MPP for Mississauga South, Sousa stressed the importance of being close to his constituents and the need to go back home to his family. As he detailed Ontario’s plan to open 40 marijuana distribution stores, he justified this policy due to the enforcement, regulation, control and safety it provides Ontarians. We could not help but chuckle as the Minister made a joke about “becoming the biggest pot dealer in the world”.
Thank you Minister Sousa for meeting with us and answering our questions!
We began the start of 2018 with one of our most anticipated meetings yet – Steve Orsini, the Secretary of Cabinet, head of the public service in Ontario and Clerk of the Executive Council. Many of us are interested in continuing our non-partisan journeys with a career in the public service and meeting with Secretary Orsini allowed us to gain insight into Ontario’s public service and the qualities of an effective public servant. Mr. Orsini has more than 26 years of experience in the Ontario Public Service and was appointed Secretary of the Cabinet in 2014. We were fortunate enough to meet in the Executive Council Chambers of the Legislature. As a point of inquiry, Secretary Orsini pointed out where Premier Wynne and he would sit during cabinet meetings.
Secretary Orsini began by acknowledging a key principle which the public service must embrace – change. Orsini eloquently stated “the only constant is change and even the rate of change is changing”. He stressed how the public service has to be agile and adapt to the change and disruption we are currently seeing. Some examples he mentioned was self-driving autonomous cars, changing service delivery and automation bringing a whole series of policy challenges that public servants must solve.
As many of us expressed interest in a career in the public service, Secretary Orsini detailed the traits of an effective public servant. The first and most important was a client centred focus. This means putting Ontarians or the public service’s clients first when carrying out government programs or implementing policies. The second was a focus on finding solutions in complex environments. Third was finding consensus in work that often involves opposing ends. Ontario has a range of diverse stakeholders with different (often competing) interests. Good public servants find areas of compromise and consensus when delivering programs or implementing policy.
One key lesson Orsini wanted to impart to us is that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, a quote from Peter Drucker. Orsini stressed that in a large organization such as Ontario’s Public Service, new strategies cannot survive with a culture that is risk-averse, resistant to change or simply protective of the status quo. Incentivizing risk taking, change and thinking outside the box is key. Orsini provided the example of OSAP+ where they changed how it was delivered (focusing on the client centred approach) by adding a calculator on the website and getting rid of complicated tax scheme. The end result due to the alterations was the more Ontarians used the programs and it was done without any change in spending!
We would like to thank Secretary Orsini for an insightful meeting and great discussion!
We had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Sacha Bhatia, a health policy researcher with significant experience in health policy.
Dr. Bhatia is the Director of the Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV) at Women’s College Hospital (WCH). The WCH is an innovation laboratory that develops and tests new ideas, new programs and new policy approaches for ambulatory care in Ontario.
One of the key ideas that Dr. Bhatia promotes is the notion of home accessibility. In this sense, patients with chronic diseases can manage their condition from home. This scenario would like this: a patient with a chronic disease would have several in-hospital consultations with Mr. Bhatia. Afterwards, they could begin emailing when any issues arise. The obvious benefit is that is less congestion in hospitals (hence, shorter wait times) and that these diseases are properly managed.
Now, enter modern medical devices: this might include scales that indicate how much sugar or fats you can ingest, and/or and iPad that recommends you walk/run a specific distance. Dr. Bhatia says that these devices are available, and are gaining greater traction among ill patients.
In addition, Dr. Bhatia is a staff cardiologist at Women’s College Hospital and at the University Health Network. Moreover, he serves as Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto and at the Institute for Health Policy Management and Evaluation.
We were eager to learn about Dr. Bhatia’s experience as the Premier of Ontario’s Health and Research and Innovation Policy Advisor. In this capacity, Mr. Bhatia indicated that his responsibility was to lower wait times. Mr. Bhatia emphasized that this experience was invaluable: specifically the dichotomy between front-line experience in hospitals, and actually creating policy that affected this process.
Thank you for such an informative meeting!